A VSCC member has lent me “Australia Through The Windscreen” (Angus St Robertson, 1939), which can be construed as a motoring book and therefore one which merits a “Belated Book Review”. The author, William Hatfield, had been asked to drive the then-new Hillman Minx (in 1932) round Australia to prove that this new British small car, with a track of 4 ft. where the Australians were used to a track of 4 ft. 8/ in., could cope with out-back conditions. He excuses his association with the venture on the grounds that the Prince of Wales and his brother did not seem to mind their names advertising the Crossley and Humber cars they had used in Australia and that he had a respect for the latter make as he was born close to the Humber factory, used a Humber bicycle as he grew up, and as a boy was a staunch supporter of the famous Beeston-Humber car. So when Hillman-Humber asked him to do a round-Australia run in the new 10 h.p. Hillman Minx saloon, he agreed.
The start was inauspicious, because at Telegraph Point he skidded off the road, hit a tree stump, and overturned the car. The excuse this time was that “racing drivers date their real experience from their first smashup”. It took four weeks to have the Minx repaired: They got off at last and there follow descriptions of Australian towns (and huge bunches of bananas almost too heavy to lift at Is. 6d. in those days) that make you want to emigrate. Where many other cars stuck in the blacksoil road from Toowoomba to Dalby, the Minx didn’t. In Roma it was fuelled with petrol made from the local supply of petroleum gas—and what has happened to that ? The road from Sydney to Darwin was exceedingly dubious, and would have been worse had it rained. Then the Duchess-Mount Isa mountainous route put paid to the Minx’s front axle, which bowed until the tops of the wheels were leaning inwards, and chewed up the balls in the ball-and-cam steering gear. Excuse—the four-seater car was loaded with the equivalent of six men. The mining engineers effected repairs.
There was worse to follow, as the Hillman negotiated the Barkly tableland, following the route of the England-Australia air-mailromantic days! From Anthony’s Lagoon to Newcastle Waters they drove for 180 miles and saw only one tin hut, and nothing on the road. Indeed, only one car had been met since Mount Isa and now a big tourer with all the tyres off the rims and its driver ill, bade the Minx stop, at the risk of its exhaust pipe setting fire to tall grass. It was a taxi and Hatfield offered a lift to the two women who had hired it, as otherwise they would be stranded for a month—and this was only 44 years ago—unless they could reach Alice Springs and catch the train that itself ran but once a fortnight. That meant 650 miles of hard going in three days but was worth a try. When the Minx had been reloaded, leaving spares behind, Hatfield put his foot on the starter and—nothing happened, until the distributor points had been cleaned. Then they were off. A terrible noise proved to be the battery box rubbing on the prop-shaftthe pressed-steel floor having split. The car was shod with Dunlop Mammoth lowpressure super-balloon tyres which helped in the “desert” and over the 384 creeks in 640 miles that had to be taken at 10 m.p.h. But the Minx was now boiling continuously and all its brake adjustment had been used up, the linings having worn away. But it nearly caught the mail-car that had started long before it.
They had negotiated plains where according to the author, no rain fell between 1925 and 1930, to reach Alice Springs, itself 1,000 railmiles from a city, where it had taken two years and two Argylls to get there by road in “the old days”. In 1925 gold prospectors found the rail-head 390 miles distant and had “charged on in battered old cars, picked up for a song, which soon broke down and left them stranded”. Our adventurers continued, along Wave Hill, so deserted that an RAAF DH Dragon Rapide that had force-landed had been lost for a week. A rock carried away the steering drag-link and arm but Hatfield made new parts from the car’s hand-brake lever. On and on. . . . They stuck in a river, had to use the front bumper as an anchor for their de-ditching gear, and wore all the treads off the tyres but had only one puncture, caused by a gramophone needle which revealed that the spare wheel had rusted itself in place. But the Hillman Minx made Sydney on schedule, had even given 40 m.p.g. of Shell (bought in cases of 40 gallons at 52s. 6d. a case) for some of the terrible going. I wonder if anyone at Rootesbeg pardon, Chrysler—remembers this trip of William Hatfield’s?—W.B.